2023 NBA Draft: Returning Players Preview
After reviewing some of their favorite incoming players for the 2023 NBA Draft yesterday, the No Ceilings crew reviews some of their favorite returning prospects.
The first few hours of the 2022-2023 NBA season have been rife with wild free-agent signings, from record-breaking contracts to under-the-radar free agency steals. While the NBA world is in an uproar about new deals and potential league-breaking trades that might upend the league in the coming hours and days, the future remains an enticing prospect for all 30 NBA teams.
We here at No Ceilings are looking ahead to those enticing future prospects in the midst of that turmoil. Yesterday, we covered a few of our favorite incoming prospects for the 2023 NBA Draft. Today, we’re breaking down some of our favorite players among the returning prospect crew, ranging from returning NCAA prospects to players spending another year in the professional ranks before presumably entering their names into the mix to be heard on Draft Night next year.
Alex: Tristen Newton (UConn via ECU): Tristen Newton is a more under-the-radar returning player, but one I am extremely interested in watching this year at UConn after three seasons at ECU. With the departure of R.J. Cole, UConn was in dire need of a PG for this upcoming year, and Newton will slide into that role seamlessly.
His last season at ECU was a breakout for him as he averaged 17.7PPG, 4.8RPG, and 5.0 APG on 44FG%/33P%/88FT%. Newton is an improved playmaking guard with a knack for scoring the basketball. He has good size for a lead guard at 6’5” and 200lbs and uses his body well to get to his spots. Newton is comfortable with the ball in his hands and loves to get to his pull-up jumper in the mid-range. His overall shooting was much improved last season, and he was more aggressive getting to the free-throw line as well. He projects to be that 3-level scoring guard that UConn can certainly use to lead their offense. While the playmaking has improved, Newton still has a knack for turning the ball over too much (3.5 TOPG last season), but he makes up for it with his ability to find open teammates while running the offense. Cleaning up some of the errant passes and mishandles will do wonders for his overall efficiency as a floor general.
On the defensive end, Newton is a really solid defender with active hands (1.4 APG last season) and is able to disrupt offenses, thanks to his size. UConn is a team that loves to pressure the ball and cause turnovers, and Newton will fit great within their scheme. I also think playing within UConn’s scheme will help him as a team defender as well. Oftentimes his help defending was simply swiping at the ball on drives, so that will be something to keep an eye on and see if Newton starts to fully rotate and potentially switch more at UConn.
Maxwell: Tyson Degenhart (Boise State): Few teams brought me as much joy as Boise State this past season. Their lineups, filled with jumbo playmakers who can run the offense and cause fits on defense, were a blast. Tyson Degenhart was a big part of their success, but he wasn’t supposed to be—he didn’t play over ten minutes until their third game of the season, and he didn’t become a starter until their seventh game. The 6’7”, 232-pound freshman came as a surprise success story. While he’s most likely still another two or three years away, I think there’s a good chance he will make a significant leap and finds himself in the draft conversation this year.
I think of two things when I think of Tyson Degenhart: production and winning. Degenhart was one of only 11 freshmen in division one hoops to finish the year with a True Shooting Percentage over 60. He’s a reliable free throw shooter at 77.3%, but he’s great around the basket (83rd percentile per Synergy) and an awesome three-point shooter (43.5%). He does the things that show up on the stat sheet offensively, but he’s full of grit, too, and sets physical screens. The ball never stops with him, and he keeps the offense flowing. He can put it on the floor to counter a closeout and has a few crafty maneuvers to get to the rim.
Defensively, Degenhart knows the scouting report. He’ll sag off poor jump shooters and smother players who aren’t a threat to get to the rim without a runway. His 1.7 STL % and 2.3 BLK % are a testament to his rotational prowess- he’s not a crazy leaper, and he doesn’t have a wild first step, but nonsense doesn’t get past him. He ranked in the 90th percentile defensively per Synergy. His physical strength works wonders, as he guards up seamlessly and puts his chest on smaller players to wall them off on drives. Degenhart doesn’t get off-balance, and he’s immune to bullying.
The player Tyson Degenhart reminds me the most of isn’t an NBA player—it’s actually UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. Degenhart isn’t as good as Jaquez laterally, but he’s already a better shooter. With a thinner Boise State roster this coming year, Degenhart is going to have even more opportunities. If he can post bigger counting numbers while staying close to his current efficiency, he’ll grab the attention of NBA front offices. Teams are constantly on the lookout for precisely this type of guy: a 6’7 wing who can guard multiple positions, score, and make good decisions.
Evan: Amen Thompson (OTE): While most of the draft world seems set on French wonder kid Victor Wembanyama being the definitive crown jewel in the 2023 class, I find myself having a hard time not placing Amen Thompson atop my own personal board heading into next year’s draft cycle. As puzzled as the entire OTE experience leaves me still in a multitude of ways, Amen and his twin brother, Ausar, have talent that is undeniable. The rare two-way potential of the Oakland products saw the pair burst onto draft radars this past year with their play in the Atlanta-based basketball league.
There’s not much difference in the duo’s skill sets. They’ve got exceptional athleticism, from both a vertical and lateral standpoint, that jumps off the screen. The Thompson twins have elite first-step quickness and a shiftiness that, combined with their lanky 6’7” frames, make them a handful for opposing guards to defend off the dribble. Both routinely get to the rim with ease and are crafty finishers that have an exciting flair to their playmaking abilities. They also share incredible defensive instincts, constantly getting into passing lanes to create steals or come over from the help side for highlight-reel blocks; plus, they play with electric energy that hardly ever seems to burn out.
However, I personally tend to favor Amen as a prospect currently over Ausar by the slightest of margins, primarily because I buy into his ball-handling skills and overall ability as a shot creator just a tad more. He seems to be more of a natural initiator on the offensive end of the floor and is the better slasher of the two in my opinion as well. Amen is an ambidextrous finisher who can punctuate drives off with power or touch and has a better feel for how to play the point guard position than his brother does currently.
Improving as a shooter and decision-maker will be a must for Thompson, though. His three-point (25%) and free throw percentages (51%), as well as his near four turnovers per game average in 27 games last season, left much to be desired, to say the least. Showing growth in both areas will be crucial to justifying any Top 5 placement for either of the twins. I also think the lack of facing top-end, consistent competition in the OTE league for yet another year will be something their detractors will use against them often during the upcoming evaluation process. Still, for my money, there might not be two more exciting and fun prospects to watch in this stacked 2023 class than the Thompson twins. I’m fully in on their star potential at the next level, and specifically with Amen, I believe he should heavily be considered in the number one pick discussion for next June’s draft.
Nick: Daimion Collins (Kentucky): Daimion Collins’s return to Kentucky for his sophomore season is going to be less of a clean fit than I had anticipated, given Oscar Tshiebwe’s decision to return to school. Still, Collins was the 12th-ranked player in his high school class for a reason, and he showed his eye-popping athleticism and burgeoning defensive game during his limited minutes in his first campaign for the Wildcats.
His stat lines don’t exactly jump off the page, but Collins did show impressive shot-blocking prowess when he did get on the court. The sample size is too small to make any real projections, but his 10.5% BLK rate in his 201 minutes last season is still difficult to ignore. Collins reportedly is focusing on bulking up in preparation for his sophomore year, which should only help him on the floor—he was rail-thin last season, and his 6’9” frame has more than enough room for him to fill out a bit. Tshiebwe’s return will cut into Collins’s minutes, but Kentucky’s top recruits, Cason Wallace and Chris Livingston, won’t be competing with him for playing time.
Ultimately, any judgments that I am making about Collins are based on a very limited sample size from last season and his incredibly impressive high school tape. Still, I’m more than willing to make that bet. He wasn’t just a highly-touted high school recruit who struggled to play against better athletes in college–he showed real flashes of being a first round talent when he did manage to get on the floor. If his improved frame helps him to stay on the court against bulkier big men, he could easily have a breakout season in Year Two in Lexington.
Metcalf: Langston Love (Baylor): The attention surrounding Baylor basketball right now is largely focused on Jeremy Sochan’s lottery selection and the incoming excitement of Keyonte George. What is going under the radar, though, is the return of former four-star recruit Langston Love. Personally, Love was my favorite player from last year’s Montverde class which contained Jalen Duren, Caleb Houstan, and Ryan Nembhard. He’s a lights-out shooter and brilliant all-around off-ball scorer.
The big question with Love is going to be how he comes back after tearing his ACL. We haven’t seen Love play in over a year, so how much of his athleticism was sapped from that injury will be fascinating. Love is listed at 6’5” and 210 pounds, so he has the requisite NBA size for a shooting guard. On what seems like a yearly basis, the ACL injury seems to lessen in severity. If Love isn’t hampered from last summer’s injury, he could be one of the top shooting guards in the 2023 draft.
Rucker: Marcus Sasser (Houston): Heading into the 2021-22 NCAA season, Marcus Sasser was trending as a player that could make some noise as a potential first-round selection in the 2022 NBA Draft. That was until a season-ending injury put Sasser’s basketball year to a stop before it got started. After a full year of recovery, Sasser was trending as a potential sleeper to make a late rise up the Draft Boards this year.
Sasser would go on to announce he would be returning to Houston for another season, and there’s a serious chance his draft stock can skyrocket up for the upcoming year. While Sasser will be a senior, there’s no denying that he has the game to become a serious weapon at the next level. Sasser plays the game with swagger and a chip on his shoulder, and he has continued to improve each year. Over 12 games during the 2020-21 season, Sasser went on to average 17.7 points per game while shooting 43.7% from the field and 43.7% from three-point range. If Sasser can bounce back and show everyone that he’s healthy, he’s got a real chance to cement himself as a potential first-round pick next year.
Corey: Arthur Kaluma (Creighton): They say the NBA is a wing’s league. During last draft’s cycle, I wrote a philosophy piece titled “What Would Masai Do?” about Masai Ujuiri’s early adoption of targeting long, versatile, switchable wings. At 6’8” 220 with a reported 7’1” wingspan, Kaluma fits the bill. The wing from Creighton had his coming out party on college basketball’s biggest stage in a close loss to the eventual National Champion Kansas Jayhawks during the second round of March Madness, showing off his multifaceted scoring potential on his way to 24 points while adding 12 rebounds. Kaluma has a good handle that allows him to create space and get his own shot, is a willing cutter off the ball, can get out in transition, and is comfortable playing down low on the block. Most of the skills I listed above are more theoretical than definitive at the moment, and Kaluma needs to improve his consistency as a jump shooter and also make better decisions with the ball in his hands. However, it doesn’t take much imagination to see the skeleton of a high-level pro in him. Where Kaluma can make an impact immediately is as a versatile swiss army knife defender. Kaluma has the length and mobility to guard on the perimeter and the strength to guard up and switch onto bigs.
As two-way wings that can switch up and down a lineup on both ends of the floor continue to draw the fervor of decision-makers, expect Kaluma to become a popular name, and if he makes the necessary improvements to improve the consistency in his production, he may see his name in the lottery conversation during the 2023 cycle.
Albert: Nolan Hickman (Gonzaga): I’m really excited to watch Year Two of Nolan Hickman at Gonzaga. I got to see him play live a couple of times last year in Vegas; although he didn’t get to play a ton because of how stacked that Gonzaga squad was, he flashed some real potential in the minutes that he did play. Hickman has a lightning-quick first step, shows good touch around the rim, and has a pretty good-looking shooting stroke. I know it was on low volume, but I like that he shot 73% at the rim, and it shows on tape. He has a nice soft floater and can also take some contact. With Andrew Nembhard now gone to the league, it’ll be fun to see how the backcourt works out between him, Sallis, and Bolton. Sallis is another guy that I like a lot, so it’ll be fun to see the three guards play together and off of each other. It’ll be nice for them to have Timme back for another year, and I actually enjoyed watching Kaden Perry whenever he got to see the floor. I think he’ll be a real vertical threat for them. Hopefully, Perry and Hickman get some more reps running pick and roll together because Perry is a freak athlete. I know Hickman is listed at 6’2” but somehow he looks bigger, and he never seems to play small at all. I like him a ton, and it’s going to be really fun to watch him develop this season.